Is Stress Sabotaging Your Weight Loss Efforts?
As for many people, your New Year’s resolution may include letting go of some extra pounds to improve your health and wellbeing. Maybe you have tried this in previous years and have gotten frustrated with weight not coming off despite best efforts. Maybe your excess weight returned promptly when you finally started eating normally again after weeks of deprivation. If weight loss seems daunting to you or you just can’t resist those cravings and are blaming yourself for lack of willpower, I have some good news for you: it may not be your fault!
Calories In vs. Calories Out?
The old adage of calories in vs. calories out that stipulates you will lose weight as long as you burn more than you take in is coming apart at the seams. You have probably noticed that some people are overweight despite eating small meals and exercising, while some lucky ducks can eat whatever they want and don’t gain weight. It turns out that our gut microbiome, the 100 trillion microbes that inhabit our intestinal tract, affect our weight and metabolism much more than caloric intake.
Microbiome transfer studies have shown that when sterile mice were inoculated with the gut microbiome of obese mice, they became obese too. On the other hand, when they were inoculated with gut bugs from lean mice, they stayed lean on diets with identical calories. Research shows that your gut microbes determine how much energy you extract from your food.
What Disturbs Our Microbiome?
Many things it turns out, such as diet, toxins and drugs, but a major factor is psychological stress. We are still discovering the tight connection between the brain and the gut. The good gut bugs produce B vitamins for mood and energy and precursors to brain neurotransmitters that make us feel good and sleep well. They are easily disturbed by stress, which then affects our metabolism, mood and sleep. Stress is also the number one cause of irritable bowel syndrome.
Stress inhibits activity of the vagus nerve resulting in lowered digestive and organ function. In addition, blood sugar levels rise, the immune system starts making inflammatory proteins, and the body holds on to fat. All of these responses served our ancestors well in dealing with stressors like saber tooth tigers or food shortages. In our modern world, our sources of stress are very different and much more constant, but the biological stress response remains the same. If you have chronic stress, your digestion is now constantly inhibited, your microbiome shifts towards the “bad bugs” and yeasts like candida which cause sugar and starch cravings, your blood sugar is elevated and you are always inflamed while your immune system is weakened. The inflammation makes your blood stickier and your blood pressure rises. Your body will store more fats, especially around the belly, and won’t let you burn it. You can easily develop leaky gut and food sensitivities. Due to lowered immunity, you may pick up some parasites who contribute to carb cravings and weight. With long-term stress, your immune system can get overwhelmed and you may develop an auto-immune disease like arthritis, allergies or asthma, and eventually cancer.
Reducing Stress and Healing the Gut
While you cannot always eliminate stressors, reducing your body’s response to them is key. For acute and chronic stress use techniques like meditation or prayer, mindfulness, EFT tapping, the King Method and regular practice of yoga. In addition, childhood conflicts or trauma rooted in the subconscious may be impairing your digestion and organ function via the vagus nerve. Shamanic energy healing, autonomic response testing, biofeedback, EMDR and family constellation are all great tools for removing disease-causing negative thought patterns and limiting beliefs.
On the physiological level, I use the Functional Medicine 5R program to heal leaky gut: identify and remove inflammatory foods, remove any microbial overgrowth or parasites, heal the gut wall, support digestion, and re-inoculate the gut with beneficial microbes. Constipation is common with stress and must be dealt with naturally or toxins are retained and the gut cannot heal. Once the gut wall has started to heal and inflammation has calmed down, gentle detoxing is necessary to keep candida and other opportunistic microbes from returning. Detoxing will only be successful if lymphatic drainage, bile flow, liver, kidneys, and circulation are functioning well. All of these should be checked and supported if necessary. Stress-induced nutrient deficiencies in magnesium, B vitamins, potassium, sulfur, anti-oxidants need to be corrected.
As you may have guessed, restoring the gut microbiome is not a one-size-fits all protocol. A good practitioner will thoroughly assess your individual needs and correct imbalances with personalized diet and supplement plans. As Hippocrates famously said, “All Disease Begins in the Gut.” That’s also where healing should begin. A healthy microbiome is a prerequisite for reaching a healthy weight.
Brigitta Jansen, MS, CDN, practices Functional Medicine Nutrition in Connecticut. She aims to optimize metabolism and address the root cause of chronic disease. Her nutrition philosophy is to support the body’s innate ability to heal itself with personalized diet and supplement plans. Brigitta utilizes blood chemistry, autonomic response testing and functional medicine testing to determine individual diet and nutrient needs. Her focus is on eliminating inflammation, healing the gut, and detoxing. 5 Durham Road, Suite C2, Guilford 917.975.1784 jansennutrition.com firstname.lastname@example.org.